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Putting Community into Community Resilience

Within past decades, there has been a shift toward understanding community resilience, which is characterized by a community’s ability to rebound and adapt following disruptions, such as natural and human-caused disasters. Although some assert that the term community resilience is a buzzword, Community Science views it as a useful framework for conceptualizing how key actors, including local residents and organizations, can strengthen their community’s ability to prevent, withstand, and mitigate such stressors. Recently, we developed a community resilience framework, expanding on other community resilience models related to disaster1.  The Community Science’s community resilience framework expanded upon existing frameworks in order to provide a more complete understanding of what is a strong community. Existing community resilience models heavily emphasized the service and delivery systems and did not fully take into account a more comprehensive view of community, which also includes informal institutions, the infrastructure of informal and formal institutions, social capital and sense of community, as well as access to services. Furthermore, the Community Science model emphasizes the importance of equal access and justice, which is integral, as times of disaster commonly exacerbate pre-existing inequities.

Overall, this framework draws on four core levers of community resilience: (1) Wellness, Access, and Justice; (2) Capable Community Infrastructure; (3) Community Strength; and (4) Data-Driven, Knowledge-Based Decisionmaking (see Exhibit 1). Equal access to relevant, high-quality services (e.g., health and social services), fair and equal treatment, the promotion of economic well-being, health, and safety lead to wellness, access, and justice that foster greater community resilience. A capable community infrastructure (community capacity) reflects the extent to which a community has existing systems and practices in place to facilitate community recovery such as volunteer coordination, public education on disaster preparedness, and community partnerships across institutions. Community strength, which has a strong influence on individual resilience, leverages community resilience by increasing the sense of community, social capital, and collective efficacy that influence a community’s ability to mobilize volunteers and to work together to effectively meet changing needs during times of disruption, stress, or adversity. Both public access to and use of quality data on community conditions, resources (e.g., volunteerism), research, and evidenced-based best practices are factors that contribute to the data-driven, knowledge-based, decisionmaking resilience lever.

Community Science’s approach to community resilience recognizes that the strength of a community is continuously affected by its context. Factors such as geographic setting, history of community relations, and previous experience doing disaster-related work can greatly shape a community’s ability to rebound and adapt. For instance, ongoing communication and collaboration with local, regional, and national organizations engaged in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery efforts are crucial sources of strength. Ultimately, both attributes of community resilience and contextual factors vary across communities; however, these common levers can serve as means of operationalizing components that contribute increasing resilience.

Ultimately, Community Science’s resilience framework—made up of these core levels and contextual factors—serves as a tool that can be used to provide insight into preparedness, response, and recovery from natural and technological disasters. Furthermore, this framework is relevant to examining other social issues that we currently struggle with, such as the economic crisis (e.g., plant closings and other losses of jobs), the influx of immigrant children into the United States, or reactions to social injustices (e.g. police brutality incidents).




1  Chandra, A., Acosta, J., Stern, S., Uscher-Pines, L., Williams, M. V., Yeung, D., Meredith, L. S. (2011). Building community resilience to disasters: A way forward to enhance national health security. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.

  Plough, A., Fielding, J. E., Chandra, A., Williams, M., Eisenman, D., Wells, K. B., et al. (2013). Building community resilience: Perspectives from a large urban county department of public health. American Journal of Public Health, 103(7), 1190-1197.

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